Educated opinion - the University of Oxford

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The Independent Online

In the first of our “Educated opinion” series, a student from the University of Oxford gives us her views on life at the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

Aside from being a collection of buildings, tutors, several thousand students and a heck of a lot of books, the University of Oxford is surrounded by myths and is supposedly attended by a bunch of stereotypical students. But do not be afraid: the myths are a collection of fabrications and exaggerations, while the stereotype doesn’t even exist. The truth is much more exciting!

Myth one

“Oxford is for white, middle-class, independently educated students”

This is a common and understandable mistake: a lot of students are white and independently educated, but a lot of them are not. Oxford is one of the best learning establishments in the world and needs the best and brightest applicants, so why would anyone be rejected simply according to their sector of society?

Enthusiasm, commitment and potential is the name of the Oxford game, and although it is largely the case that teachers at independent schools have the time and resources to prepare their students, Oxford tutors can spot the applicants who have had interview technique drummed into them from those who are answering with their own minds and ideas. This is also supported by the country’s largest undergraduate bursary scheme, forming an exciting, eclectic mix of students.

Myth two

“The Oxford stereotype”

There is simply too great a range of people at Oxford for any stereotypes to exist. Before arriving, I feared dominance by the “Arrogant Oxford Snob”, basing their conversations on 20th-century French philosophy jazzed up with Chaucerian quotes and quips from Monty Python. Perhaps they are around but I’ve never met any, and sometimes it’s difficult to realise the intellectual capacities of a fellow student when they are more preoccupied with watching Hollyoaks online and making bop costumes out of bin bags.

Myth three

“Oxford thrives on outdated and ridiculous traditions”

The university is committed to retaining traditions that are integral to its culture, though they may appear archaic and bizarre to outsiders. Yes, we have a daily vocabulary which includes “sub fusc” (from a Latin word, but basically meaning posh gown attire), “pidge” (individual letter boxes, as in pigeon hole), “tute” (tutorial), “rusticated” (temporary expulsion), and funny words for our exams – such as “mods” and “prelims” – and for academic terms (Michaelmas, Hilary, Trinity). However, “skint” is another common word, so it is possible to keep up.

One tradition I have become obsessed with is the Boat Race, despite a previous indifference to rowing; I have also developed an unwavering hatred for Cambridge, despite having never been there. Tourists take photos of me in my gown, and what can beat leisurely punting down the river (or reclining while someone else does it for you) or playing croquet on the college lawn followed by a drink in the sunshine when the novelty wears off?

Myth four

“Oxford students have to work hard”

Unfortunately, this one definitely is not a myth. At least one essay is set per week, along with extra work, lessons, lectures or labs – depending on what subject you study – which all are squished into three eight-week terms. Phew. Exams arrive in summer term, when not even the freakishly clever and efficient can avoid the persistent beckoning of the library’s wicked finger. Facebook statuses become essay progress reports and cups of tea lose their magical power as stronger sustenance is sought. However, the work is always manageable, usually interesting, and often conducted alongside any of the other abundant activities available that make Oxford an unbelievable place to be.

What do you think?

Do you agree with Gini’s assessment of Oxford University, or have you got you own views? Feel free to leave your comments below.

You too could have your thoughts on your university here on IndyStudent. Just send us an e-mail to with the subject heading “Educated opinion”. Include your name, age and contact details, and tell us which university you go to and a quick summary of what you would like to say about it. Those with the best ideas will get the chance to air them!